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Rapid Tests Offer Promise to Adult Care Facilities—If Made Accessible and Affordable

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During the first wave of COVID-19 in the spring of this year, assisted living communities across New York State reacted swiftly and comprehensively to minimize the spread of the virus within. Adult care facilities were mandated to test all staff every week, and this will likely remain in place for the foreseeable future, at a great cost to providers.

Adult care facilities and assisted living residences in the State of New York are required to test more than 36,000 staff members weekly. These communities are facing a testing cost of more than $3.2 million per week for the PCR test, which average $100 each.

The Empire State Association of Assisted Living (ESAAL) and its provider members strongly support the continued testing of staff so that their senior residents remain safe and healthy. However, the financial strain placed on them during the pandemic has restricted their ability to invest in other necessary activities, such as building maintenance and improvements to technology to help keep residents and their families better connected. Some are even facing closure. These facilities simply cannot sustain the exorbitant weekly costs. It is breaking their backs.

Just as vaccine development continues to progress at a breakneck pace, great strides have been made in the capability to perform tests and achieve near-instantaneous results. The first round of testing kits, commonly known as PCR tests, provide results in anywhere from two to 10 days, a long wait for ESAAL’s more than 300 assisted living member communities to identify the presence of the virus and take necessary safety measures to stop its spread. Today, with advances in rapid tests, the Abbott BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card can produce results in about 20 minutes—dramatically reducing the risk of exposure for our residents and staff and at a much lower cost, around $35 each. While no one test is completely accurate, and the rapid antigen test has been found to be less accurate than a PCR test, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of rapid antigen tests in high-risk congregate settings—such as adult care facilities—where repeat testing could quickly identify persons with a SARS-CoV-2 infection so that prevention and control measures preventing transmission can quickly occur.

Lisa Newcomb

The federal government has provided a limited supply of the tests to some adult care facilities, but it is far short of what is needed. The federal government has indicated that the US Department of Health and Human Services reviews epidemiological data on a biweekly basis in order to ensure tests are directed to areas with greatest need and facilities may be added to or removed from the distribution based on these data. As a result, there is not an adequate and reliable pipeline of these tests. Adult care facilities need the state to assist us in securing a consistent supply of tests, especially as New York is now experiencing an increase in COVID-19 in some communities.

On behalf of the 30,000 senior New Yorkers who are residing in ESAAL member communities, we are calling upon New York State to provide them with a supply of the rapid Abbott tests from the State’s strategic stockpile, so that we can provide the greatest level of protection and security for our residents, their families, and the hardworking, dedicated men and women who staff these residences.

Lisa Newcomb is executive director of the Empire State Association of Assisted Living, comprised of over 300 adult care facilities throughout New York State, serving more than 30,000 residents.

The River is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the newsroom.